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September 13, 2011 

USDA Bans E. coli in Meat; Victory for Public Health Community

Statement by Margaret Mellon

WASHINGTON (September 13, 2011) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that six types of E. coli will be banned from U.S. meat. The USDA declared these six pathogens, known as the “Big Six,” as adulterants, and will begin testing for them in beef trimmings, a component of ground beef, beginning in March 2012. Trimmings containing adulterants will be prohibited from release into commerce as raw products, but will be allowed in products that will be cooked. 

The newly listed adulterants are similar to E. coli O157, which was declared an adulterant in the wake of the Jack-In-the-Box incident in 1994. These toxin-causing bacteria produce bloody diarrhea, anemia, kidney failure and death, and are especially dangerous to children and the elderly.

Below is a statement by Margaret Mellon, senior scientist and director of the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The Union of Concerned Scientists congratulates the USDA for its decision to add to the list of disease-causing bacteria it seeks to keep out of the American food supply. USDA is listening to scientists and acting aggressively to place public health ahead of industry profits.

“The move is a welcome and important first step in implementing the Obama administration’s policy of preventing, rather than belatedly responding to, foodborne illness. Keeping these six dangerous pathogens out of the food supply will prevent debilitating disease and save lives, especially among children.

“This is a red-letter day for public health.

“While the ban of the “Big Six” is a major accomplishment, these are not the only six foodborne pathogens that threaten our backyard barbeques. USDA should build on today’s action and consider listing other foodborne pathogens as adulterants, starting with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, which not only cause exceptionally virulent disease, but have a diminishing arsenal of effective treatments.”


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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